Lost Words in Our Bible?

Jeffrey Khoo


The Word of God is forever infallible and inerrant. The Church today has a 100% Perfect Bible without any mistake because God promised to preserve His inspired words to the last jot and tittle (Matt 5:18). Thus, (1) the inspired Scriptures were never lost but always preserved without any corruption or missing words; (2) the Sacred Scriptures are always infallible and inerrant, and supremely authoritative not only in times past, but also todaySola Scriptura!

As Bible-believing Christians, there is a need to defend the preserved words of God not just in the NT but also in the OT. Today, our OT Scriptures are being questioned by some who do not believe that God has preserved every jot and tittle of His words in the OT, going against what Jesus promised in Matthew 5:18. They say that some insignificant or redundant words of the OT have already been totally lost and nowhere to be found. According to them, these “lost words” contribute to the so-called “scribal errors” in our OT Scripture.

This article seeks to assure all believers that the same God who had originally inspired His OT words has also continuously preserved all of His words to the jot and tittle (Matt 5:18). Christians can truly live by God’s every word (Matt 4:4) because every word of God has been kept intact without any word lost.

Jot and Tittle Preservation

The OT Scriptures were first given to Israel—God’s chosen nation. Romans 3:1–2 tells us that God had committed to the Jews the safekeeping and copying of the Holy Scriptures. Knowing well the divine nature of the Scriptures, that the words of the sacred pages were the very words of the Almighty God, they copied the Scriptures with great precision and accuracy employing very strict rules. For instance: (1) “No word or letter could be written from memory; the scribe must have an authentic copy before him, and he must read and pronounce aloud each word before writing it.” (2) “The revision of a roll must be made within 30 days after the work was finished; otherwise it was worthless. One mistake on a sheet condemned the sheet; if three mistakes were found on any page, the entire manuscript was condemned.” (3) “Every word and every letter was counted, and if a letter were omitted, an extra letter inserted, or if one letter touched another, the manuscript was condemned and destroyed at once.”1 These very strict rules of transcription show how precious the Jews had regarded the inspired words of God, and how precise their copying of these inspired words must have been. Such strict practices in copying “give us strong encouragement to believe that we have the real Old Testament, the same one which our Lord had and which was originally given by inspiration of God.”2

The words of the Scriptures are important (Deut 8:3, Matt 4:4, Luke 4:4). God uses His words to communicate His Truth so that we might know who and what He is and how we might be saved through Him. The Bible clearly tells us that it is God’s written words (pasa graphe—“All Scripture”) that are inspired (2 Tim 3:16), and from these inspired words come all the doctrines that are sufficient and profitable for the spiritual growth and maturity of the believer (2 Tim 3:17). The Bible also clearly says that God Himself will preserve all His inspired words to the jot and tittle without the loss of any word, syllable or letter (Ps 12:6–7, Matt 5:18, 24:35).

Now if we have the inspired, infallible and inerrant words of God today preserved in the traditional and Reformation Scriptures, then how do we explain the differences or discrepancies found in the Bible especially those found in 1 Samuel 13:1, 2 Chronicles 22:2, and many other places. Can these be due to “scribal errors”?

Since God has preserved His inspired words to the last iota and no words are lost but all kept pure and intact in the original language Scriptures, we must categorically deny that our Bible contains any mistake or error (scribal or otherwise). But it is troubling that certain evangelicals and fundamentalists would rather choose to deny the present infallibility and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures by considering the “discrepancies” found in 1 Samuel 13:1 and 2 Chronicles 22:2 and other like passages to be actual instead of apparent discrepancies, and calling them “scribal errors.”

No “Lost Word” and No “Scribal Error” in 2 Chronicles 22:2

A denial of the verbal preservation of the Scriptures will invariably lead one to believe that some words of God have been lost and remain lost leading to a “scribal error” view of the OT Scriptures. For instance, W Edward Glenny denies that God has perfectly preserved His Word so that no words have been lost. He says, “The evidence from the OT text suggests that such is not the case. We might have lost a few words …”.3 Based on his “lost words” view of the Bible, he was quick to point out “obvious discrepancies” in the OT like 2 Chronicles 22:2. He pontificates,

In 1 Chronicles 8:26 [sic], the KJV states that Ahaziah was twenty-two when he began to reign; the parallel in 2 Chronicles 22:2 says that he began to reign at the age of forty-two. ... These obvious discrepancies in the KJV and the Hebrew manuscripts on which it is based show that none of them perfectly preserved the inspired autographa.4

Now, know that 2 Chronicles 22:2 reads “forty-two” in the KJV. A number of the modern versions like the NASV, NIV, and ESV read “twenty-two” instead. So which is the original, inspired reading: “forty-two” (in KJV), or “twenty-two” (in NASV, NIV, and ESV)? In making such a textual decision, we must have a perfect standard, and that infallible and inerrant standard is the inspired and preserved Hebrew Scripture, and not any translation ancient or modern.

It is significant to note that every single Hebrew manuscript reads “forty-two” (arebba’im wushetha’im) in 2 Chronicles 22:2. There is no evidence of lost words—every word to the letter is preserved, and reads precisely as “forty-two” as accurately translated in the KJV. If every Hebrew manuscript reads “forty-two” in 2 Chronicles 22:2, then on what basis do the NASV, NIV, and ESV change it to “twenty-two”? They change “forty-two” to “twenty-two” on the basis of the Septuagint (LXX) which is a Greek version of the Hebrew Scripture just like the NIV is an English version of it. In other words, they use a version or translation to correct the original Hebrew text! Should not it be the other way round?

Why do they do this? They do this because of their fallacious assumption that (1) God did not preserve His words infallibly, (2) lost words exist in the Hebrew text, and (3) 2 Chronicles 22:2 is an “obvious” discrepancy (cf 2 Kgs 8:26). Thus, Glenny and all such non-preservationists are quick to use a fallible translation (eg, LXX) to correct the infallible Hebrew Text! This is no different from someone using the NIV today to correct any part of the Hebrew Text according to his whim and fancy! But Glenny calls it “conjectural emendation”5 which sounds scholarly but it is pure guesswork. Can a translation be more inspired than or superior to the original language text? Can a translation or version (whatever the language) be used to correct the Hebrew? Glenny’s method of explaining such “obvious discrepancies” in the Bible is troubling for it displays (1) a sceptical attitude towards the numerical integrity of God’s Word, (2) a critical readiness to deny the present inerrancy of Scripture in historical details, and (3) a lackadaisical approach towards solving difficulties in the Bible by conveniently dismissing such difficulties as “scribal errors.”

A godly approach is one that presupposes the present infallibility and inerrancy of God’s Word not only when it speaks on salvation, but also when it speaks on history, geography or science. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom 3:4). Such a godly approach to difficult passages is seen in Robert J Sargent who, by comparing (not correcting) Scripture with Scripture, offered two possible solutions to the so-called “problem” or “error” in 2 Chronicles 22:2. Sargent suggested that “forty-two” could be either (1) Ahaziah’s years counted from the beginning of the dynasty founded by Omri, or (2) the year in which Ahaziah was actually seated as king though anointed as one at “twenty-two” (2 Kgs 8:26).6 Whatever the answer may be, the truth and fact is: the inspired and preserved Hebrew reading in 2 Chronicles 22:2 is “forty-two” and not “twenty-two,” and no man has the right to change or correct God’s Word by “conjectural emendation,” taking heed to the serious warning not to add to or subtract from the Holy Scriptures (Rev 22:18–19).

No “Lost Word” and No “Scribal Error” in 1 Samuel 13:1

Now, let us look at the next text which is 1 Samuel 13:1 which the KJV translates as, “Saul reigned one year.” But the other versions read quite differently. The NASV has, “Saul was forty years old when he began to reign;” the NIV has, “Saul was thirty years old when he became king;” and the RSV has, “Saul was … years old when he began to reign.” Which of the above is correct? The only way whereby we can ascertain the correct reading is to go to the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible since day one reads Ben-shanah Shaoul, literally, “A son of a year (was) Saul,” or idiomatically, “Saul was a year old.”

Now, the difficulty is: How could Saul be only a year old when he began to reign? Scholars and translators who do not believe in the jot-and-tittle preservation of Scripture say that this is an actual discrepancy in the Hebrew Text which they attribute to a “scribal error.” This is why Michael Harding in a mistitled book—God’s Word in Our Hands—wrote,

[I]n 1 Samuel 13:1–2 the Masoretic Text states that Saul was one year of age (ben-shanah—literally “son of a year”) … Some ancient Greek manuscripts … read “thirty years” instead of “one year,” … On account of my theological conviction regarding the inerrancy of the autographa, I believe the original Hebrew text also reads “thirty,” even though we do not currently possess a Hebrew manuscript with that reading.7

Harding and those like him fail to apply the logic of faith to the promise of God that He will preserve and has preserved every iota of His inspired words. This leads them to conclude that a word is lost and 2 Chronicles 22:2 contains a “scribal error” even when there is no such error to begin with. They change the text when the text needs no changing. They replace divine words with human words. Instead of attributing error to the translation (LXX, NASV, NIV, RSV), they rather fault the inspired and preserved Hebrew Text and treat it as an actual discrepancy even when there is absolutely none. This has caused many Bible believers to doubt God’s Word: Do we really have God’s infallible and inerrant Word in our hands? Many are indeed stumbled by such allegations of error in the Bible, and are questioning whether they can really trust the Scriptures at all if there is no such thing as a complete and perfect Word of God today.

It must be categorically stated that there is no error at all in the Hebrew Text and no mistake also in the KJV which translated 1 Samuel 13:1 accurately. So how do we explain 1 Samuel 13:1? A faithful explanation is offered by Matthew Poole who wrote,

[Saul] had now reigned one year, from his first election at Mizpeh, in which time these things were done, which are recorded in chap. xi., xii., to wit, peaceably, or righteously. Compare 2 Sam. ii.10.8

In other words, the year of Saul was calculated not from the time of his birth but from his appointment as king; “Saul was a year old into his reign.” This meaning is supported by the Geneva Bible which reads, “Saul now had beene King one yeere.” Rest assured, there is no mistake in the Hebrew Text and in the KJV here. God has indeed inspired and preserved His OT words perfectly so that we might have an infallible, inerrant OT Bible in our hands today.


The inspired words of the Hebrew OT are all the words of the Hebrew Masoretic Text (Ben Chayyim). The Trinitarian Bible Society regards the Ben Chayyim OT Text underlying the KJV to be the preserved and definitive Text, and that the correct OT reading is to be found in precisely this Text.9

The Biblical doctrine of the jot-and-tittle preservation of the Holy Scriptures affirms a 100% infallible and inerrant Bible today! The Written Foundation of our Judeo-Christian Faith is sure and secure for “the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa 40:8). Amen!


1 H S Miller, General Biblical Introduction, 4th ed (Houghton, Word-Bearer, 1947), 184–185.

2 Ibid., 185.

3 Roy E Beacham and Kevin T Bauder, eds., One Bible Only? (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), 121.

4 Ibid., 115.

5 Ibid., 114.

6 Robert J Sargent, “A Scribal Error in 2 Chronicles 22:2? No!The Burning Bush 10 (2004): 90–92.

7 James B Williams and Randolph Shaylor, eds, God’s Word in Our Hands: The Bible Preserved for Us(Greenville: Ambassador Emerald International, 2003), 360–361.

8 Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (Mclean: MacDonald, nd), 1:542.

9 “Statement of Doctrine of Holy Scripture,” Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Report, April–June 2005, 10–11.

Dr Jeffrey Khoo is the Academic Dean of Far Eastern Bible College, and an Elder of True Life Bible-Presbyterian Church.

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 13 Number 1, January 2007.